Matilda (1996) by Chris Moore

I often tell people that I’m lucky. I grew up in a time when children’s entertainment was at its best. These were before the days of BLUE’S CLUES and TELETUBBIES giving kids everywhere ADD (you know it’s true, people!) Back in my day (why hello, Grandpa), family entertainment was wholesome, but not completely braindead like a lot of it is now. The Disney Channel and Nickelodeon had only recently hit the airwaves and they weren’t afraid to take chances. In many ways, The Disney Channel was sort of like the TCM of its day. It was there that I’d end up seeing a good majority of all the old MGM musicals, the delicious TEEN WITCH, and the goofy ROGER CORMAN produced STEPMONSTER (yes, Disney used to show CORMAN movies.) Hell, even Nickelodeon used to air the slightly subversive and spooky ARE YOU AFRAID OF THE DARK?

Out of all the great kid friendly things to come out of the ‘80s and ‘90s (of which there are many), the film adaptation of Roald Dahl’s 1988 novel MATILDA goes straight to the top of my list. I first saw it in theaters back in ’96. Two twins in my 1st grade class decided to have their birthday party at the movies and they picked this one to go see. Pretty much the entire class showed up, not knowing that we were about to have our minds blown.

The story centers around young Matilda Wormword. Matilda’s white trash parents hardly even know she exists and spend their days selling used cars for unfair prices, getting their hair dyed, and playing bingo. Little do they know that, even from an extremely young age, their daughter has had an abnormally large IQ. Since she’s so neglected at home, she becomes self-sufficient and even braves the big city to seek out a library so that she can quench her thirst for knowledge.

When she finally asks to go to school at age 6, her parents send her to Crunchem Hall, a school that looks more like a correctional facility than a place of higher learning. There, she comes face to face with the butch Agatha Trunchbull, the school’s stern headmistress, who has a thing for tossing disobedient children out windows, over fences by their pigtails, and into the Chokey, an iron maiden-esque contraption filled with nails and broken glass. Thankfully, Matilda ends up in the classroom of Miss Honey, a kindly teacher who appreciates the quirks of every student she teaches and starts to believe that Matilda might be exceptionally gifted. Did I also mention that Matilda has psychokinetic powers? Oopsy! The story is like PRECIOUS meets some sort of bizarre JOHN WATERS movie meets CARRIE…but for kids.

What stands out most is how the story never speaks down to children. It’s that special something that Roald Dahl had. If you look at his other works such as THE WITCHES and CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY, you’ll see what I mean. His stories are never inappropriate, but they also never gloss over some of the darker themes that most children’s writers would. They’re sort of like the Grimm’s Fairy Tales of our time. As a kid, I respected that. I looked up to the storytellers who knew we were brave enough to handle the injustices that life might throw at us. Plus, Dahl always delivered his stories with a playful wink in his eye and his tongue planted firmly in his cheek.

MARA WILSON (who I loved in MRS. DOUBTFIRE, too!) plays Matilda and is super adorable. Real life couple DANNY DeVITO (who also directed the film) and RHEA PERLMAN as Matilda’s trashy, inept parents threaten to steal the show at any moment. They’re hysterical! EMBETH DAVIDTZ radiates a genuine warmth as Miss Honey. She’s the teacher we all wanted as kids. You just want to give her a hug and let her adopt you. PAM FERRIS should probably join the ranks of Kindertrauma Traumatizers for her portrayal of The Trunchbull. She commits to the role in such a way that leaves your jaw on the floor. There’s not one bit of vanity in her performance. She just looks like she’d smell really bad. I actually just recently looked up a recent picture of her and was shocked that she was such a beautiful lady in real life. This is real acting, folks!

A few traumatizing moments include:

  • The sequence where Bruce Bogtrotter is put on stage in front of the entire school by the Trunchbull and made to eat an entire chocolate cake as punishment for stealing the Trunchbull’s. It’s made even more disturbing when the cook, old and sweaty, emerges from the wings carrying the cake. The Trunchbll admits that her “sweat and blood went into this cake” as the cook starts wiping her runny nose on her apron.
  • Matilda uses her powers to convince the Trunchbull that her house is haunted by the spirit of the brother she possibly murdered.
  • The extended suspense sequence when Miss Honey and Matilda break into the Trunchbull’s house only to have her return abruptly. It’s a nail biting scene that puts a lot of similar scenes in legit horror films to shame.
  • Matilda still holds up as a surprisingly fun and refreshing viewing experience. I’ve probably seen it over a hundred times since its first release and I still never tire of it. It’s just as warm, touching, funny, and poignant as the first time. In fact, Dahl has gotten surprisingly lucky in terms of film adaptations. Both THE WITCHES and CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY (I’m talking about the one with Gene Wilder, not Johnny Depp!) were also adapted into stellar films worthy of coverage on Kindertrauma. God knows I have my own horror stories about watching those two. As a matter of fact, those films still make me a little uneasy when I watch them. There’s something about them that gets under my skin.

    Special kudos go out to the film’s composer, DAVID NEWMAN, who also composed HEATHERS, which is another one of my favorite film scores. His music is at times quirky, scary, suspenseful, and often heartbreaking. Take a listen to this suite (HERE). Also, what kid of the ‘90s doesn’t immediately think of this song when this movie is brought up?

    UNK SEZ:: Thanks for covering this fondly remembered movie Chris! I’m a fan myself. Folks, don’t forget Chris’movie PERVERSION is available HERE!

    Don’t Go In The House (1980)

    I wasn’t sure I wanted to catch DON’T GO IN THE HOUSE. When I was around 13, my best friend was taken to see it by his father and the tale he returned with rattled me. I was immersed in horror films at the time but DON’T, at least as my friend described it, sounded like it was on the deeper end of the pool than I was familiar with. It was about a guy who lived in a house (that you’d better not go into), who captured women, tied them up in a metal room and then burned them alive with a flamethrower. What?! Why would anyone want to do that?! Listening to my pal’s war story was thrilling but worrisome. He talked as if he was lucky to make it out of the theater alive himself. The movie he made in my head was close enough. DON’T didn’t sound like much fun and being tied up and burned alive sounded way crueler than a nice quick axe to the head. I wasn’t ready to go into this particular house. I wasn’t even all that tempted…yet.

    A bunch of years passed and I (wrongly) believed I had exhausted every 1980s horror flick I could. Obviously it was high time I took the plunge and went inside that darned house my friend had told me about. Even if the film did not live up to my nervous expectations, I’d have a decent time visiting the dark shadow it once cast in my head. I ended up appreciating the movie a lot more than I expected. I found the depravity I bargained for and the lead actor was sympathetic enough to carry me through. I suppose there is a misogynistic element skulking about but such is the price you pay for free range horror. I missed DON’T in its heyday and I missed it in its awkward years too. By this point it captured a specific valued bubble of time. Friendly disco music and a weirdly effective undercurrent of melancholy balanced out whatever sleazy behavior it indulged in. The house itself is my favorite type of authentic location you only seem to find in low budget films. The awesome icing on the cake is DGITH’s awkward dubbing. The original soundtrack was unusable so everything had to be re-dubbed later which adds something as off-putting as it is endearing. Background characters jabber hilariously and incidental dialogue jumps to the forefront. It’s wrong but I love it.

    Watching the film a second time I find myself even more taken. The psycho killer with mommy issues routine is nothing rare but the unscalable wall of alienation maniac Donny Kohler bangs up against is not limited to his history or home. He’s harangued at work, his competency is perpetually up for debate and every time he tries to connect with a lone ally, some snide comment questioning his sexuality is made. Donny’s abusive past (his mother tried to burn the sin out of him) would be enough to unhinge anyone but the consistent debasement he receives in the ugly universe he inhabits is just as destructive. (Okay maybe he shouldn’t have thrown that lit candle holder at that pushy girl’s head at the disco but it’s not as if he wasn’t perfectly clear about not wanting to dance.) In the end Donny’s last victim is not a woman but a priest who has failed him and there’s an epilogue that suggests that the evil we’ve witnessed is not limited to Donny’s twisted mind. In the messed up world of DGOTH it seems every kid we encounter from extras on the street to the children of Donny’s friend are victims of hostility and the voices that haunted Donny are ready to “help” them (“the weak and the wounded” to borrow from SESSION 9) too. Sure, the “evil finds a new host” epilogue may be cliché but it strikes a truth about the fallout of abuse.

    DON’T ends up being my favorite type of movie. It can be seen as crude and humorous on one level but on the other hand there’s something hard to shake creepy about it too. The old house, with its bizarre angles and funky furniture and the sudden flashes of Donny’s white-haired, blue-skinned, scarecrow of a dead mother give it some timeless gothic flavor while the music, fashion and unrepentant violence speak specifically of its own era. I also really like the performance of the main actor DAN GRIMALDI. I think he’s really interesting in this and I’m not surprised he went on to other things including playing twins on THE SOPRANOS. I can’t really say this movie ends up being as scary and as effective as the movie that my pal constructed in my head long ago but it does have a better soundtrack and I have a feeling it’s only just begun to speak to me.

    Vigilante (1983)

    I was going to kick myself for not watching WILLIAM (MANIAC) LUSTIG’s VIGILANTE (1983) sooner but I decided to thank the universe for waiting for the exact perfect circumstances to lift the curtain on this prize instead. Don’t sweat the plot- it’s about a guy who believes in the law until justice flips him the bird after his life is demolished, who then decides to take matters into his own hands. Things explode and bad, bad people die in ways they really deserve. See, this is why I can’t get worked up about remakes and sequels; multiple interpretations of the same potent theme are the lifeblood of genre filmmaking. You know this place even if you haven’t been here before.

    Two major factors catapult VIGILANTE over its peers. It’s got a fantastic cast, ROBERT FORSTER, CAROL LYNLEY, FRED WILLIAMSON, JOE SPINELL and RUTANYA ALDA (she of AMITYVILLE II and no relation to ALAN-drats!) and a super talented sinfully underrated director. LUSTIG may have a habit of delivering semi-unsatisfactory climaxes but the road to that minor disappointment is paved with major brilliance. He certainly knows how to engage the audience with his characters and he excels at keeping you on edge worried about how far he’ll go next. What’s more, I have to hand it to LUSTIG for his striking and yet never overpowering visual sense. Is it just me? I love his use of color and his penchant for finding strange fluorescent beauty in the blandest of areas. It can’t be accidental, amidst jaw-dropping violence there’s something about VIGILANTE (and MANIAC) that feels like unearthing stray blazing rubies in piles of grey gravel. I’ll throw down some images below but I think that analogy applies to how LUSTIG’s films operate as a whole too. The world may be hopeless, grim and falling apart but if you look close there’s always something shining in the wreckage.

    Fright (1971)

    A bunch of years ago I remember having a used DVD copy of FRIGHT in my hands all ready to buy when a friend I was with pulled one of those, “Oh, I’ve seen that” sourpuss, “Meh” routines. Dummy me dropped it from my purchase pile. I suppose my pal had a point; FRIGHT is nothing extraordinary but certainly this person should have known me well enough to realize that a babysitter, an old dark house and an escaped maniac would be more than enough to warrant a viewing. So what if I’d seen this song and dance before? Familiarity may breed contempt for others but for me, it breeds contentment. Plus, I now realize that FRIGHT predates the films that drove the concept into the ground. That’s gotta count for something. If that friend knew me at all they would have said, “It’s from the early seventies-you’ll love it!” but looking back I believe the only real information I was meant to take away was that so-and-so had seen this film before me. Big whoop. Here’s an oversized stuff animal prize.

    FRIGHT is of its time and may frustrate modern viewers especially those who expect characters to act as they (theoretically) would and get incensed when they don’t do the exact smartest thing in every possible situation. Our babysitter Amanda (SUSAN GEORGE) does some seriously boneheaded things in FRIGHT and she cries and screeches a lot too. If the film was made today, I’m sure she’d be depicted in a much stronger, more valiant way but I’m going to give her some leeway as she’s just a kid and a maniac is trying to kill her. Why not scream and cry? Is there a better time for such a response? Oh yeah and her boyfriend kicks the bucket right in front of her face! That might upset a person.

    I know I’m an apologist but critiquing a character’s response to a violent situation, to me, is sort of like a friend telling you they’ve been mugged and you’re like, “Did you punch them in the face? Did you grab the gun away? Why not, what’s wrong with you?” Everything is easy from the sidelines and everybody thinks they’re boss until they’re not. Truth is, you really don’t know until it happens to you. When real fear comes a knocking all bets are off, the world is upside down and a truckload of kooky chemicals are poured into your brain. You might have a hard time remembering your own name let alone be expected to suddenly morph into an expert at guerilla warfare. Amanda’s not alone in the questionable decision making department either. Nearly every character here, including the police, reacts in ways that are unbelievable by today’s standards. In the end though, all the reactions present are more likely then say, Bigfoot so if I can believe in Bigfoot, I can believe in this. He’s out there!

    All in all, I’d say FRIGHT is very much worth hurdling over its hokey chasms. If you blur your eyes to a few glitches it’s a beautifully shot, cleverly edited, atmospheric suspense film that must have had some kind of influence on HALLOWEEN. Whether the resemblance is coincidental or not, I’d say it plays like a precursor to that film even more so than the often-sited BLACK CHRISTMAS does. Although not gory or gruesome, the potential for something truly horrific to occur is intensely strong in certain scenes. The child in peril business is particularly off-putting and something I’m sure you’d be unlikely to see attempted today. The little tyke in this, TARA COLLINSON, is actually the director’s son, which makes the situations he’s thrown into a little bit easier to condone. There’s a bushel of hammy dialogue on hand but the performances are uniformly above par. IAN BANNON as the escaped lunatic nearly goes over the top but there’s something convincing about his wild scattered energy too.

    I should have bought this movie way back when, as now the price seems to have jumped. Sheez, you’d think that getting to see HONOR (Pussy Galore) BLACKMAN who plays the mom getting her groove on at the local restaurant would be enough for some people! Yep, it could have been better but it deserves more than a shrug too. That, or I just love babysitter vs. maniac movies. In any case, there are worse things in life than hanging with SUSAN GEORGE in a dark mansion for an hour and a half, even if she is a little screechy.

    The Secret of NIMH (1982)

    I need to start watching more animation. Movies in general are stellar transportation out of my dilapidated noggin but it seems animated movies have the power to drop me off at a bus stop happily even farther away from my home. Was I just hanging out with a bunch of talking animals? I could get used to that. Inspired by a reader’s comment in one of our posts (Thanks Drew Bludd!), I jumped into THE SECRET OF NIMH, a film I caught back in the day on cable that I didn’t recall too much about. Now, I think anybody at any age should be able to enjoy SECRET but I don’t think I made the best audience at whatever age I encountered it the first time. Back then I was probably thinking animation suited a younger crowd while still being too immature to appreciate the incredible level of artistry present. Currently I’m flattened and floored by the accomplishment that is THE SECRET OF NIMH. What a beautiful thing. Everybody who works in animation out there who keeps the tradition alive, my grateful eyeballs salute you. (You won’t catch me disparaging computer animation though on account of HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON alone validates its existence.)

    I can’t comment on how good an adaptation SECRET is of the book it’s based on because I have not read it (yet!) but I can say that if I would drink all the colors in this movie if I could. There may be some flaws in that certain story elements are fuzzier than necessary and things are a bit too conveniently mended by magic in the end but I’m starting to believe that flaws are what keep art from becoming stagnant and dull. SECRET is perhaps dark but it’s a beautiful kind of dark and darkness here only serves to brighten the positive light that it frames.

    I’m sure some kids could easily get wigged out by the hideous monster spider that appears but without said spider, how could we fully marvel at the bravery of heroine Mrs. Brisby? Brisby is my favorite type of hero. She’s not looking for trouble and she’s in no way on an ego trip trying to prove her pluck. She simply does what must be done. The dilemma here is that there’s a tractor coming that will flatten her house but she can’t move her youngest kid because he’s sick as a dog; harrowing scene after harrowing scene ensue. I’m telling ya, watching Brisby face an assortment of intimidating obstacles to reach her goal makes for some surprisingly suspenseful fare. If it wasn’t for Jonsey, I think Brisby and ALIEN’s Lt. Ripley would make great pals.

    Another thing that makes Mrs. Brisby a special rodent is the fact that she is voiced by ELIZABETH HARTMAN and it’s the last film credit of her career. HARTMAN was nominated for an Oscar for her film debut in A PATCH OF BLUE and at the time, she was the youngest person ever to be nominated. I’m most familiar with her due to her work in that exceptional CLINT EASTWOOD flick THE BEGUILED and for the NIGHT GALLERY episode she appears in called “The Dark Boy.” Sadly, mental health issues hounded this great actress and while her popularity declined, she became a recluse and eventually took her own life by jumping out a fifth story window. How’s that for depressing? Other folks that lend their voice talents are DOM DeLUISE as a bumbling crow and JOHN CARADINE as threatening but knowledgeable owl. SECRET is also the first film credit for both SHANNEN DOHERTY and WIL WEATON. Yep, it’s true that this movie is heavier than the usual kid friendly fare but therein lies its power.

    I suppose it’s no surprise that I’m all for more challenging, less candy-coated fare for children and it’s not because of a secret self-serving plan to harvest more traumafessions in the future, I swear! Fact is, the world can be a rather horrible place and as much as it would be nice to keep children in the dark about that fact as long as possible, allowing them to safely process that idea before it becomes obvious, I believe, buffers the jolt. I’m no parent but I can readily recall what it was like to be a kid and thank God I had the darker side of cinema to let me know that what darkness was in my life was not exclusively attached to me.

    The important thing here is not the level of threat that confronts Brisby but the level of courage and determination she exudes while confronting those threats. Maybe that seems like no big deal but considering the fate of the troubled woman who voiced her, it’s important to remember that the difference between plowing forward regardless of what ugliness appears and giving up is in fact, gargantuan.

    Nightmare (1981)

    I enjoyed looking back at how my perception of MANIAC changed over the years so here I am doing the same thing with the like-minded NIGHTMARE

    ONCE (1981-ish)

    One of my favorite things as a young teen was trying to keep my eyes open long enough to watch SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE which, way back then, was followed by a show I enjoyed even more, SECOND CITY TV. SNL’s East Coast start time of 11:30 might as well have been 5 in the morning to me and I typically failed to remain awake. Luckily a mad scientist invented the VCR, which allowed me to tape both shows overnight and catch them the next morning over Apple Jacks. This is how I first came across the movie NIGHTMARE, one of my late night videotape fishing trips had hauled in a short TV spot for it. I remember the commercial being brief and simply showing a masked madman bashing down a door but it impacted me greatly. I rewound the ad a multitude of times, finding it more and more unsettling upon each view. The movie that I began to imagine in my head was brilliant and epic and what an injustice it was that I was too young to see it. I’d have to wait for video and so I did.

    I almost didn’t recognize NIGHTMARE when I bumped into it at the video kiosk at the mall. The poster image of a screaming face I had become familiar with thanks to a newspaper clipping was abandoned in exchange for a mundane film still. Not that there was any debate about whether I should proceed with my rental, the videobox was of the over-sized variety and presented by a company called Continental, a seal of approval of sorts that I did not take lightly. When had Continental let me down before? Well, lots of times but whatever. My first viewing of NIGHTMARE ended up being, for the most part, disappointing. The movie was successful in both grossing and weirding me out but it was sloppy and crass and completely devoid of the magical element that existing only in my head. The door-smash scene from the TV spot was still scary but by the time it showed up in the film, I had already been alienated by scenes of rampant sexual dysfunction. Well, it wasn’t HALLOWEEN that was for sure; around this time in the early ‘80s I was finding out that sad fact about a lot of movies.

    THEN (1994-ish)

    Instead of disappearing into oblivion, NIGHTMARE kept coming back. Its reputation was kept afloat by the fact that it was banned in the UK and the surrounding controversy about whether or not TOM SAVINI had any hand in the special effects. All I knew was that it was one of the more f-ed up movies I could recall from my youth and all of the sudden, I couldn’t find it anywhere. Even though it had let me down before NIGHTMARE began to expand once more in my brain. I had to see it again! I had to show it to my friends! A bootleg was the only answer! Well hey, this was before the Internet and to me, a VHS copy of a copy of a copy of a copy was about as criminally malicious as a mix tape. I can’t say my fuzz-blur pirate edition of NIGHTMARE (labeled “NIGHTMARE IN A DAMAGED BRAIN”) revealed any new insight or level of quality to me. It was all just as shabby and crude as I recalled but now it had an heir of the forbidden and the tactless, trashy counter-bourgeois beat it bounced to had a value all its own. This is when the unintentional humor began to bleed in and I began to agree with just how disagreeable it was.

    NOW (2012)

    I knew I had to get the DVD of NIGHTMARE as soon as it was (finally) available. Honestly I would have purchased it for the cover alone since it features the original poster art that so intrigued me long ago. The picture looks fine but happily not too fine, its worn weathered texture adding salty flavor to the tone. These days there is no question that I am fond of NIGHTMARE. It somehow ended up teaching me how to view a certain type of movie in a different way. It also turns out that I sometimes require more than mere technical finesse in a film. Just as certain bands proved being a virtuoso musician was not essential to make vibrant music, NIGHTMARE makes me realize that in the case of some movies, it’s the untamed energy that trumps all. The plot may be threadbare and the characters may be methodically intolerable but NIGHTMARE’s unstable and unruly attitude has bite and there’s a steadfast grim and hopeless element present that’s daunting. Somewhere along the line NIGHTMARE and I fused together. Watching it now, I feel like I’m seeing foggy old scratched up home movies of my own childhood. Like MANIAC, NIGHTMARE opened a door that allowed me to see past the easy to deride surface of a low budget film. It expanded the range of my taste and allowed me access to other films that I might have passed by. I guess it could have been done in a better, more sophisticated way but its raggedness is a large part of its messed up appeal. Yep, it disappointed me at first but looking back, that’s because I was trying to will it to be what I wanted it to be rather than being receptive to what it actually was. I’ll let more discriminating minds than my own decree whether it’s “good” or not. I’m happy simply knowing this scrappy nihilistic exploitation flick ended up mattering much more to me than I initially thought it would.

    The Woman In Black (2012)

    Traveling to the movie theater this aftern0on I said to myself “Lancey” — that’s what I call myself – “if you’re going to jump ship the first time a rotten looking CGI ghost appears, then turn right around and don’t bother.” Guess what though? I didn’t have to worry, THE WOMAN IN BLACK is not as CGI-heavy as the commercials might have you believe. I’m thinking some of the TV spots have been tinkered with and exaggerated because on the big screen, everything looks mostly kosher and solid. In fact, this is a great looking film. Even if there was no story or sound, I could probably watch this thing as a slide show. It’s very Goth-centric and chilly with fog, rain and marshy mildew all over the place. In other words, this is that dusty-doily type of spook show that I love and am always in the mood for. As far as I’m concerned, the world can keep its torture and rape and I’ll take all the wind up monkeys that come to life for no reason.

    This movie terrified me from the onset with the notion that DANIEL RADCLIFFE was old enough to be the father of a four year old. Wasn’t he a kid two days ago? Talk about chilling. I’m really getting old! I’m going to be dead soon! After drilling that horrific idea into my head, the movie shoved a funnel in the open wound and began to pour all of my favorite depressing things inside: death, loss, suicide, hangings, the idea that a person could be so destroyed by an event that they never recover or so trapped in the molasses of grief that they end up haunting themselves, etc. This is my jam and I’m doing the twist in my head and I’m doing that twist to early records by THE CURE.

    I was very lucky that a gaggle of young girls who I suspect were RADCLIFFE fans sat a couple rows behind me. The only other people in the theater were an older couple to my right. The teenagers had a blast screaming at every loud noise or appearance of the title apparition. One of them was fake crying through the heavier scares. I kept thinking, “Thank God it’s not a group of boys behind me because they would have to prove how unscarable they are to each other and ruin the whole thing.” I’m not going to tell you anymore. It’s a movie about a guy and a ghost, a ghost who has a hard time forgiving. It takes place in a small town where only one person has a newfangled car. There are beautiful houses in it covered in vines and there are a couple scenes that are pretty flipping creepy.

    If you are a fan of THE OTHERS or THE CHANGELING, you’ll probably like this. There are a couple of great moments that might remind you of THE INNOCENTS and a couple of weak spots that may remind you of hokier more modern fare like DARNESS FALLS. Those lesser moments are brief, so who cares! Sorry if this review is lame but I wanted to get it done quick so that if anyone was on the fence about seeing it, I could push him or her off and say, “Go ahead!” This review could also be lame because I am now having a beer and yes, definitely listening to THE CURE! (Not doing the twist though.)

    P.S.: This movie was directed by the same guy (JAMES WATKINS) who did EDEN LAKE which I approve of. He also wrote THE DESCENT 2 which I didn’t care for but maybe the director of that one screwed it up. The screenplay was written by JANE GOLDMAN (KICK ASS) based on the novel by SUSAN HILL. There, now I feel better.

    Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010)

    When I was a very little kid, I stole a pack of Dentyne gum from the grocery store. It was so easy- I just put it in my pocket as my Mother was purchasing groceries. The act itself was thrilling. I could not believe that I could think of something like that, do it and then bask in the rewards. I was interacting with the world and I existed. Hubris was destined to trip me up though. I shared my accomplishment with my older brother and after enjoying some of my gum and throwing the wrappers into a bush, my brother promptly snitched (Life lesson #1: Happiness lasts longer when not shared with others.)

    So now I was in trouble, big trouble. I had to wait in the stairwell as my mother spun the punishment wheel in her head and determined my fate. As I stood in the hall crying and praying for the power to turn back time (Life Lesson #2: No amount of praying will result in God granting you magical powers) the two cops from ADAM-12 (MARTIN MILNER & KENT McCORD) came into the kitchen and began to discuss my fate with my mother. I saw them and I heard them, I swear. I was trapped in a whirlwind of guilt and horror; I was obviously going to be arrested and sent to jail. I wasn’t a “good” guy, I was a “bad” guy! Oh, the shame!

    Time would reveal that no, the ADAM 12 guys were not in my home at all. I had just had, you know, a visual and audio hallucination of some sort. I guess my brain was not formed enough yet to draw the lines between my imagination and reality (this would also explain the night that I saw the Easter Bunny in the living room.) I bring up this story because while watching the Finnish film RARE EXPORTS: A CHRISTMAS TALE some invisible elf in my head dragged it out of storage and shoved it center stage. The movie may look like a killer Santa flick but in reality, it’s more about being a kid, and finding a way to overcome feelings of being “bad” while gaining some confidence about your abilities and position in the world. If you watch this one expecting gore, explosive action and big scares, you might feel shortchanged so I’m saying don’t do that.

    RARE EXPORTS introduces us to a kid named Pietari who has gone and done something worse than stealing Dentyne. He and a friend, while snooping around an excavation, left a hole in the fence that contains his father’s reindeer herd and now something has obliterated his family’s livelihood. Pietari’s guilt cannot be contained and even though he has been sworn to secrecy about the incident, he knows that Santa sees all and will punish him severely. This is made even clearer as all the local kids about town begin to disappear. Pietari’s father captures an elderly man who he thinks may be responsible for their predicament but Pietari is convinced that the creepy guy is all-knowing Santa himself. The truth is actually stranger and more fantastic than Pietari can imagine so I won’t ruin it here.

    This is a highly original film that plays with your expectations and stokes your imagination at every turn. If you a looking for a different type of holiday viewing experience then this is it. It hits a very unusual and singular note by being much darker and creepier than your standard family Christmas movie and yet much more whimsical, nostalgic and ultimately uplifting (literally in one scene) than your usual Christmas horror fare. Director JALMARI HELANDER is compared to SPIELBERG, JEUNET and DANTE in blurbs on the back of the DVD and I can see that, but with the frozen landscape, zero female presence and block of ice excavation, I was thinking hey this is like a kid’s version of THE THING! Okay, well, maybe that doesn’t fit exactly but you know how my brain works. In any case, RARE EXPORTS is a great addition to my pile of required Christmas holiday viewing. Really the only thing that it is missing is a cameo from the guys from ADAM-12.

    “The Present” (2005)

    I had awful dreams last night and I blame the segment “The Present” from KAZUO UMEZ’S HORROR THEATER VOL 3. directed by YUDAI YAMAGUCHI (VERSUS, BATTLEFIELD BASEBALL.) “The Present” is a Japanese killer Santa story based on an influential manga. Honestly, I don’t know much about mangas but if anything involves a killer Santa, I want to know about it and I want it to be a part of my life. “The Present” opens with a little girl named Yuko having an awful dream herself. It’s Christmas night and her parents console her by informing her that as long as she is good, she has nothing to worry about and Santa will protect her from harm. If she’s bad though, she is screwed!

    Flash-forward into the future and Yuko is now a young adult. She appears to be a bit of a wallflower compared to her friends but she agrees to travel with a group to a hotel to celebrate Christmas. Arriving at the hotel, she begins to stumble across crap featured in her childhood nightmare. In fact, the hotel room she stays in is decorated with assorted objects from her youth. Yuko is not feeling it and wants to go home but her friends convince her to stay and then her boyfriend convinces her to have sex. Apparently having sex on Christmas angers Santa and now Yuko and all her pals have to be butchered and fed to the reindeer. Wow, Yuko’s parents were not kidding.

    “The Present” is doused in off-putting colors and heavily utilizes disorienting angles and flash cuts. It’s made even more surreal by the fact that it is filmed on some kind of HD video that reminds me of DR. WHO. There’s plenty of blood and gore running through this simple vignette, but the real creeps are the result of the psycho-moralistic undercurrent. It’s kind of like being stuck in one of those Christian haunted houses that tries to scare the sin out of you. I can’t say crazy Santa is completely effective either. He’s got a very impressive throwing star on a chain which he uses to yank off assorted limbs, but for some reason he can’t be bothered to deliver a proper scowl. Maybe this dude looks scary in Japan, but to me he looks like a bored delivery guy.

    Assuming that nobody will ever watch this, I’m going get spoiler-y. As if the character of Yuko had not been disparaged enough, we come to find out that she was never the innocent we knew and was just pretending to be “pure” as a way to manipulate those around her. It turns out she doesn’t like Christmas, does not want to spend Christmas with her parents, smokes cigarettes and sneakily smiles to herself when she’s pretending to be coy. Personally I’m still not convinced that she deserves to have her brains scooped out but hey, I’m a liberal. It’s not surprising that the movie ends up being the dream that young Yuko had at the start. What is surprising is that young Yuko takes credit for squashing the brain of the “bad” future Yuko who is yet to be and that her parents rejoice in the fact that she will always be “gentle”.

    Well, I’m happy I checked this one out even though I think it’s crazy making and causes bad dreams. “The Present” is so dogmatic that it ends up revealing the most horrible side of Santa I’ve ever seen. Turns out he is just a tool to scare and bribe kids into listening to their parents and submiting to their bourgeois values. Who knew?

    Kinterview :: Candle Cove Creator Kris Straub

    The other day while trying to hunt down a “Name That Trauma!” I came across several mentions of a local television show from the early seventies entitled CANDLE COVE. The show seemed to have left a hefty impression on the unfortunate young souls who made a habit of watching it. CANDLE COVE was about a little girl named Janice and her interactions with a group of pirates that were portrayed by cheap looking puppets. For a kid’s show, CANDLE COVE was dark and twisted in a way that only a seventies show could get away with. There was even a villain named “The Skin Taker” and his cape appeared to be sewn together pieces of-you guessed it… skin. How had I never heard of CANDLE COVE before and why did it sound slightly familiar anyway? Finally I found a conversational thread that seemed to verify the existence of this highly kindertraumatic creation. Please take a moment and read it HERE.

    …Did you read it? Don’t lie to me. Okay, so it turns out that CANDLE COVE was never really a show at all but spawned from a work of short fiction written by one KRIS STRAUB. Something about KRIS’ creation stuck a cord with the Internet and now CANDLE COVE is beginning to crystallize into a modern urban legend of sorts right before our eyes. Some refuse to believe that it never existed and some believe that they have witnessed it themselves. You have to admit after reading that thread that it doesn’t sound too far off from the conversations we have here at Kindtrauma, with different people remembering different bits until finally something solid takes form. I think the last comment that closes KRIS’ piece is brilliant. It captures just how diabolical and intrusive these vague memories from childhood can sometimes feel. I’m happy to say that I was able to track down KRIS for a short interview for you guys so here it is!

    UNK: I almost didn’t want to reveal CANDLE COVE as a work of fiction but then I realized that no matter how many times that fact is put out there, some people refuse to believe that it’s not real. What’s it like to know that something you created has taken on a life of its own and in such a relatively short amount of time?

    KRIS STRAUB: At first I wasn’t aware that it had happened at all. I had a horror fiction site, ICHOR FALLS, where I posted CANDLE COVE initially, and it ended up shared without my knowledge at much more popular horror fiction sites, where it reached a much bigger audience. I know 4chan helped to spread it around. The first time I saw people re-enacting the story, post for post, to scare an unsuspecting forum, I was so gratified. I kind of wrote it just to get the idea out of my head.

    One of the things that I think let it take on a life of its own is how vague it is, and how earnest the show seems to be before all the scary stuff is revealed. So many things that scare us as kids start from this innocuous desire to entertain children, but it’s produced carelessly, or some special effect comes out way more ponderous or ugly than the creators intended, and it lingers as we, as children, try to make it fit with our limited understanding of the world. I think we have all been disturbed by shows and movies that have failed us in that way.

    UNK: CANDLE COVE has inspired fan videos, fan fiction, music and a Facebook page promising a future movie. What addition to the CANDLE COVE legend have you been most taken aback by?

    KRIS STRAUB: I like that people are excited about the story, but I get nervous when I see someone trying to make a film or their own CANDLE COVE books and stories. One of the good and bad things about how quick the story became an urban legend is that people really do think it’s an urban legend with no origin and no author. Fan work is great, but I’m very torn about balancing the fact that it is copyrighted and I do own the story, with the idea that it is in the nature of the story to be spread, namelessly, in dark corners of the internet. I know that serves the mythos way more than me being a litigious dick about it.

    As far as being taken aback, I never know how serious Rule 34 is. The rule of the internet that states that if it’s a thing, then there’s porn of it on the internet. So there’s some sexy CANDLE COVE stuff out there that I hope was made as a personal self-challenge, and not a real, living desire to see Horace Horrible get it on with the Skin-Taker.

    UNK: Can you tell us a little bit about your website ICHOR FALLS and the inspirations behind CANDLE COVE?

    KRIS STRAUB: ICHOR FALLS is a collection of stories revolving around a fictional West Virginia town of the same name. I started writing them out of a love of Lovecraftian horror — not horror where someone gets chopped up, but where someone is made to realize that they don’t really understand the forces that drive the world, but they’ve seen too much of the truth. I also came to love the short stories of STEVEN MILLHAUSER, who doesn’t write horror per se, but creates these little universes where one good idea is taken too far, and then he takes it even further. Most of them are really unsettling.

    Believe it or not, CANDLE COVE was specifically inspired by an old article on THE ONION: “Area 36-Year-Old Still Has Occasional Lidsville Nightmare.” It’s so accurate. I don’t know what dark entities SID & MARTY KROFFT spent time in the thrall of, but everything they made to entertain kids is tinged with this unearthly, utterly alien sensibility. I looked up the call letters for a TV station in that area of West Virginia and the names of nearby towns, and it lent the story a little verisimilitude.

    UNK: I feel like you could take this idea as far as you like. Do you have anything in store for the future as far as CANDLE COVE and its burgeoning mythos?

    KRIS STRAUB: It’s tough! I started to get really excited in continuing the mythos, but I think CANDLE COVE works because it is brief and vague and interrupted. I think to put a name or face to whatever is behind the making of the show is to spoil the magic. I always appreciated THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT for never showing us the witch. A CGI monster can never be as scary as what we invent in our own minds as a placeholder.

    I have an idea keeping with the forum-post format, that involves someone asking around an auction site like eBay for the original tapes. There have also been some fan attempts to debunk CANDLE COVE (which always happens quickly, especially if people see this interview), but I’d like to write a whole meta-novella where someone decides to publish their attempts to expose CANDLE COVE and finds more than they were expecting.

    UNK: Last but not least, I’ve got to try and get a traumafession out of you. What was the first movie, TV show, etc. that you remember being truly terrified of as kid?

    KRIS STRAUB: I think I have a good one. There was an ABC AFTERSCHOOL SPECIAL from the ’80s, “Cousin Kevin,” about this little bespectacled kid whose imagination was too real for the babysitter. There’s one sequence where Cousin Kevin is imagining that they’re in the Arctic, and they’re attacked by “30-foot-tall carnivorous killer penguins.” They were stop-motion-animated by the Chiodo Bros., I remember that. All the effects were.

    So Kevin and his babysitter escape and hide in a tiny igloo, and the penguin breaks it open easily, and Kevin says “watch out for their acid saliva!” and this huge fake penguin beak oozes steaming slime on the babysitter as he struggles and screams and begs for Kevin to end the fantasy. The whole scene is so nightmarish and claustrophobic! It wrecked me for months. There are more moments like that I’m sure, but it’s the only one I can remember. I would give anything to find that episode again.

    UNK: Thanks KRIS for the interview and for CANDLE COVE. I have to admit that somewhere in the back of my mind I’m still not convinced that it wasn’t real either. Kids, Make sure you step insde KRIS‘ permanent residence KRISSTRAUB.COM to see all the other cool stuff pouring out of his head!